New Releases List

Monday, November 5, 2012

Blood of Vipers

Back during my years of struggle, when I kept writing with the dream of getting published some day, I sometimes wondered if the struggle was the only thing keeping me going. That is, was I simply too stubborn to give up? And if I ever found success, would I keep writing with as much passion, or would it become simply another job? Or worse, would I get bored and give it up?

That worry seems silly in retrospect. Now that I’m on the other side, I find that I’m more devoted to writing than ever. My head is bursting with ideas, and I’m writing as fast as I can, barely able to keep on top of all the stories I want to tell.

I finished a new historical novel called Wolf Hook in late summer*, and had about a month off before I was scheduled to start work on the next book in The Righteous series. It wasn’t enough time to write an entire book, but I didn’t want to sit around watching TV or goofing off on video games. When reading about the final, chaotic days of WWII it had occurred to me that while the war ended for most Americans in 1945, the massive population upheavals, food shortages, and changing military occupations kept the war fresh and raw in Europe for years after. Not to mention the last days of active combat, and how awful it would be to realize the war was won (or lost) and still be in the middle of a life and death struggle.

I imagined an American fighter pilot downed behind enemy lines in early May of 1945, and instead of adding characters and subplots like I would when developing a full-length novel, decided to keep the scope of the story shorter, about 80-120 pages. With hard work it was something I could finish in about a month. It would also give me something to share with my readers during the time of the release of The Blessed and the Damned in early October and Destroying Angel in March.

I was pleased with how this story turned out and am happy that early readers seem to be enjoying it too.

Blood of Vipers:

When fighter pilot Cal Jameson is shot down in enemy territory at the end of the war, his only desire is to find his way back to American lines. But as Cal hides from a Waffen-SS death squad, he stumbles into a family of German refugees fleeing Soviet shock troops. Soon, he finds himself in an uncertain role as the family’s protector. Together, they must stay alive while under attack from partisans, Russian soldiers, and the last, dying struggles of the Nazi regime, which is determined to throw back the enemy, even if it means the final destruction of the German people.

*It might be a while before you can read Wolf Hook. There is some interest from Thomas & Mercer to publish some of my other books, but if they don’t make a firm offer my agent is talking about shopping it to some other publishers. If that doesn’t pan out, I’ll hire my own editor and cover artist and bring it out myself, but right now everything is up in the air.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

The Blessed and the Damned Release

I'm excited to see that October 2 has finally rolled around, the official release date of The Blessed and the Damned. This is my favorite book of the series, and perhaps my favorite book that I've written, period, with the possible exception of The Red Rooster, which I still love and think about. It's so difficult to juggle all the pieces that make an effective book, but I really felt the suspense, the character, and the great desert setting all coming together.

Of course, an author's favorite book might not be a readers favorite, but I have a good feeling that this will be well received. Time will tell.
Also, The Wicked has been picked up for mention in the Kindle 100, which has lowered the price to $1.99 for the month of October, so if you don't have a copy of book #3, this might be the time to grab it.


Sunday, August 26, 2012

An Indie Writer's Journey

This blog post appeared last year as a guest post I wrote for R.E. McDermott's blog. I've updated it slightly.

My success as an indie writer has not been in the realm of the John Locke, J. Carson Black, or Amanda Hocking. Nevertheless, I've sold over 100,000 ebooks since January, and my series of polygamist thrillers, The Righteous, was picked up by Amazon's new thriller line, Thomas & Mercer, where I have had additional success. I've had enough success as an indie and enjoy the total control of going it solo that I intend to keep publishing some of my own work, no matter what happens with on the traditional publishing side.

Here are four pieces of advice I'd give to the aspiring indie writer.

* Work on your opening.

* Don't be sloppy with editing.

* Pay attention to your cover.

* Polish your blurb.

Readers are no more forgiving than editors or agents. They'll sample your book and if it doesn't grab them in a hurry, they'll drop it and move on to the next story without a twinge of guilt. The biggest cost for a reader is not the price, it's the hours spent when the reader could be reading something else. Just like you can step up to a display case of pastries and make a decision in a minute or less, so a reader can glance at your cover, blurb, reviews, and sample and decide if this looks worthy of time and money in a moment. You'll notice that editing, cover, blurb, and opening have something in common. They speak to your desire to be professional.

I made some mistakes with releasing imperfectly edited versions in the early days. Don't do this. Readers will mention this oversight in reviews, especially if you are an indie. Those reviews will stick there forever, long after you've fixed the formatting or the editing mistakes. Look at a couple of the poor early reviews of my books, if you don't believe me. All the glowing reviews by other readers won't erase those comments, and that was a totally self-inflicted wound, very unlike the kind of bad review that simply comes from not connecting with a reader.

Your cover and your blurb also give an important impression to the potential buyer. The cover can intrigue in the best of circumstances, but if amateurish or off in some way, tells the reader you're unlikely to care about the internal packaging of your book, either. Similarly, learn how to write a great hook for your product description. I know that this is a different skill than being able to write a compelling book--if you could tell the story in two paragraphs, why would you have bothered writing the book?--but you're a writer. Figure out how to make your blurb sound as enticing as possible.

Now, your opening. Don't give away too much, too soon. Remember, it's mystery that drives reader interest, not explanation. I think of the opening as a three legged stool: character, situation, and problem. If any one of these is out of balance, the stool will collapse. This is why an opening showing your character clinging to the edge of the cliff doesn't work any better than having a character wake up in her bed. The situation and problem are either too big or too small for our interest in the character at such an early stage. I like to start with a compelling character in an intriguing situation, trying to resolve some problem that is relatively small in scope. I don't immediately explain what this problem is, but if the reader sees intent on part of the main character, this is enough. When the time comes to explain this first little mystery, you should also have a bigger mystery waiting in the wings to ramp up reader interest.

Once you've got all the ingredients there, what should you try? A little bit of everything that is ethical, inexpensive, and doesn't take away from your goal of continuing to produce new work. Try giveaways, well-targeted ads like Pixel of Ink or eReader Review. Do guest blogs, visit boards and participate in such a way that doesn't come across as always talking about your book. Don't waste your money on advertising that is not carefully targeted.

The good news is that you don't need to panic if things don't take off right away. Unlike the limited shelf life of traditional books, your virtual library of offerings will always be there. Any time you've got men on base, the next batter has the opportunity to advance all your runners, not just the guy at the plate.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Feeding the Muse

I'm writing this from a beach house in Hawaii. It's peaceful and relaxing. There is good food, good weather, the sound of the surf, the smell of brine and plumaveria. Better yet, a very generous relative is paying for most of the trip.

There is only one problem. It does not feed the muse.

One day on one of my more challenging trips--Morocco, say, or Thailand--would be worth more to my writing brain than any number of weeks in Hawaii. Imagine shopping for spices an ancient souk or riding an elephant into a tiger preserve and the story material you'll find there. Even the challenging parts--a strange gastrointestinal ailment in Peru, spiders the size of small kittens in the Amazon, an aggressive tout in Tangier--spin off a dozen story ideas.

Sipping a drink with a little umbrella in it? Not so much.

I hope to take a more challenging, exotic trip some time soon, but meanwhile I'm always on the lookout for unusual experiences that don't punish the bank account as much as travel. I signed up for a Dengue fever vaccine study recently after a medical facility tracked me down because of an old yellow fever vaccination. Not only can I help fight a nasty disease that hits 100,000,000 people every year, but I can pick up details that lend authenticity to any medical-related fiction I write, as well as learn more about tropical diseases.

I might go back on stage this fall with a local company that is doing a production of Cabaret. You know how I love the historical settings.

In the past, I have studied foreign languages, taken up skiing and diving, and a host of other things to broaden my experience base. The risk for a writer is to sit in his or her writing room and live entirely inside one's own head. Do that and you may as well double up on the umbrella drinks, because you've sent your mind on a permanent Hawaiian vacation.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Write Like Hyde, Revise Like Jekyll

The two sides of the creative process can behave like Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. Jekyll is nervous, cowed by bad reviews and mediocre sales. He is convinced the work stinks, that it should probably be deleted or put away, in fact. Hyde, on the other hand, is a creative beast who tears through the streets, trumpeting obnoxiously about his abilities and willing to knock into the mud anyone who dares contradict him.

Neither of these men should escape the confines of your own head. If Jekyll is pathetic, Hyde is a jerk. But working in the subconscious, what Stephen King calls "the boys in the basement," they come together to produce one's best work.

For me, this comes when I alternate between two contradictory opinions:

1. My stories are so interesting that the whole world should read them.

2. My writing is dull, uninspired, and lazy, and needs a good flogging simply to struggle to its feet and drag my plot cart around the block.

The self-doubt and fear sounds self-defeating, but is quite useful in two stages of the creative process. First, when I'm brainstorming, trying to figure out how to make this book better than the work I've written in the past. I need to be critical, to toss aside dull ideas and to find something unusual in the pile, something that won't be the same, tired story. This is how I came up with the original premise for The Righteous. In fact, I was so deep in critical mode at the time that I almost tossed it to the rubbish heap. The polygamy angle was close enough to my own childhood that it felt mundane and not fresh, at least until I discussed it with a couple of writing friends, who grew excited by the idea.

The second time when a critical eye is useful is during revisions. I give everything a hard look. Are my characters as strong as I can make them? Is my villain a real person and not a caricature? Do I fall into lazy scene setting, with characters chatting in diners, living rooms, or city parks instead of somewhere active and engaging? How are my hooks at the beginnings of chapters and my read-on prompts when they end? Finally, I pick apart individual sentences, to make them active and not passive, to eliminate weasel words and reinforce with strong verbs and well-chosen details.

But as useful as the critical eye can be, there is a time when it needs to cower in a corner so that Mr. Hyde can come out and tell his story. This is during the rough draft stage. Don't think, just write. Let the first draft emerge in a flurry of words, one sentence piled on top of the next. Of course I use skills earned during the Jekyll stage of other projects, but any craft emerges subconsciously. As soon as I start to fiddle with individual sentences, Dr. Jekyll starts whining from his cage and the project bogs down.

And I have to write every day or the story goes cold. Heaven forbid three or four days go by without producing anything new. The book starts to feel like someone else wrote the darn thing and suddenly I can see all the flaws.

And that's the easiest way to kill a promising story.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Over the Top

I've scaled the heights this week and finally have a view of the valley below. Yes, I have firmly passed the midway point of my new historical thriller, Wolf Hook, and finishing the darn thing no longer sounds like hiking a mountain, barefoot, with a fifty pound pack of research books strapped to my back.

Still a long way to go, and I've got some distractions to deal with over the next few weeks: a visit from the in-laws, a trip to Utah for my niece's wedding, and contract negotiations with my publisher for some more books in the Righteous series. Good distractions, but still the sort of thing that can puncture the tire of my writing progress if I'm not careful.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Writers Write

I've been thinking lately about the long and strange trip from when I submitted my first short story while I was still in high school until I took the plunge last year and became a full time writer.

I'm a slow learner, and I didn't have much success in the early days. It took three years before I placed my first short story in a small press magazine and seven years before I made my first professional sale. I wrote either thirteen or fourteen novels (depending on how you're counting) before I published my first. You can read more thoughts about my persistence here.

At what point did I consider myself a real writer? From the moment I started working on my first, abortive attempts to complete a story. At what point would I say now that I became a real writer? The answer is 1995, when I sold my first professional short story to Kris Rusch at The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

It was not the selling of the story, however, that turned me into a real writer. It was a change in attitude that occurred earlier that year. That attitude had been slowly turning more professional over the years, starting with my volunteer work at a semi-professional science fiction magazine, and progressing through the six weeks I spent at Clarion with seventeen other aspiring writers. I recognized early on that most of the people I knew who said they were writers or wanted to become writers didn't actually write very much. They loved talking about writing or attending writing conferences and sitting on panels. They might knock out a story or two a year and maybe even sold some of them. Some of these people were better writers than I was even though they wrote less. Did I mention I am a slow learner?

I found this enormously frustrating, but I consoled myself with the fact that I was producing much more, at least eight or ten short stories a year. Practically one a month.

It was only when I attended the Kris and Dean Show in early 1995, a workshop given by two professional and very hard working writers, Kris Rusch and her husband Dean Wesley Smith, that I realized how I was falling short. I shouldn't be comparing myself to other aspiring writers, they pointed out, I should be comparing myself to professionals. How much did professionals produce and how did I expect to join them if I didn't produce as much?

Dean said that if we wrote a short story ever week(!), we could almost guarantee that we'd sell a professional short story within a year. For the next fourteen weeks I wrote a short story every week. And it worked! A Dog's Night was picked up for publication in F&SF. I sold several other shorter pieces, mostly to semi-pro magazines, but also to The Atlantic.

It turns out that I'm not a short story writer, I'm a novelist. But those lessons held for novels as well. Once I realized that I was more suited to the long form, I committed to write a new novel every year until I got published. I didn't quite make it, but from 1996 until I achieved success in early 2011, I wrote eleven novels. Some of those books will never see the light of day, but some are pretty good. Thomas & Mercer has picked up some of them, publishers have expressed interest in others (although I like being an indie writer so much I doubt I'll turn them over for the modest advances on tap), and last month I crossed the 300,000 sales threshold for my combined indie and traditionally published novels.

I owe a good deal to Kris and Dean for their great advice, but especially to Kris, who was also the first professional editor to put faith in my writing.

When someone tells me she's a a writer, I don't accept or dismiss this based on professional qualifications or whether or not she has an agent. After all, I was a professional for sixteen years before I started earning a living. What I want to know is this:

1. Do you write? Writers write, they don't talk about writing. One story a year does not make you a writer. I'd say fifty thousand words is a bare minimum.

2. Do you submit what you write? These days this can mean self publishing or podcasting, or any number of things that don't necessarily mean "pursue an agent and a publishing contract with a leading house," but it does mean getting your work in front of readers and seeking to earn an income.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Back to 1942

I started my new book yesterday. Technically, I haven't finished the last one, as I'm still working on the final draft of book #5 of The Righteous series, before sending it to my agent and editor for feedback. But it's close enough that it's a mop up effort at this point. I'm quite pleased with how this one has turned out and feel like books 4 (The Blessed and the Damned) and 5 (Destroying Angel) are the strongest of the series, with enough resolution to hopefully satisfy readers looking for closure of the main plot, but enough left at the end to pull us into the next series of three books if we can come to an agreement with the publisher about an extension. I think we will; sales have been strong. But back to 1942. I'm starting in Amsterdam this time, not Occupied France, like in The Red Rooster, but I'll probably venture across Occupied Europe as the story plays out. I'm drawing on my recent travels to Holland and Italy as well as a pile of memoirs and historical non-fiction about the war years I've been reading lately, including a compelling, but awful book about Himmler. Digging so deeply into these stories is troubling, and the entire milieu weighed like a shadow on my mind while I was writing The Red Rooster. I expect more of the same, for better or worse. It's certainly a palate cleanser from the cloistered community of Blister Creek. Here is my blurb, although I should warn you that it will be some time before you can read this. First, I have to write the darn thing, and then I have to get together with Thomas & Mercer and decide if they want to tackle the project or if I should publish it on my own. I wouldn't mind doing that; I enjoy the direct connection with readers and the ability to find my own cover artist, editor, etc. Jim Heydrich is the Canadian-born nephew of one of the most feared men in the Gestapo. When his mother dies and his father returns to Germany just before the war, Jim arrives in the Third Reich as a young, sensitive theater student, both protected by and encumbered by his famous relation. Resisting an invitation to join the Nazis, he instead finds himself a member of an English-language theater troupe working in Occupied Europe. Unbeknown to Jim, the leaders of the theater troop, Nigel Burnside and his daughter Margaret, are not the English fascists they appear, but members of the British Secret Service, using the theater troupe to recruit spies from among the Anglophile German officers who come to their productions. Disillusioned with both sides of the war, Jim is trying to defect to neutral Ireland when he stumbles into one of Nigel and Margaret’s most closely held secrets—a Hungarian physicist they are smuggling out of Europe. While trying to extricate himself from this unwelcome knowledge, he manages to both draw the attentions of the Gestapo and to convince the British Secret Service that he is a Nazi spy, a threat to their plans who must be eliminated.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Blessed and the Damned Back Cover Text

SPOILER WARNING: Do not read unless you've already read book #3, The Wicked. Here is the back cover text from the publisher for book #4 of The Righteous Series.
For years Jacob Christianson struggled to reconcile his faith with his skepticism about the fundamentalist practices of his polygamous community. Nevertheless, whenever his family and neighbors in Blister Creek were threatened, Jacob always stepped up to join the fight against those who would destroy them. Now Jacob is facing his greatest challenge yet. Taylor Kimball Jr. has returned, and he wants to take over as prophet of Blister Creek—and claim Jacob’s sister Eliza as his unwilling bride. To protect his family and neighbors, Jacob forms a tenuous alliance with his father, the reigning prophet, and the FBI. But Taylor is as crafty as he is brutal, anticipating Jacob’s plan and descending on Blister Creek with a horrific new weapon capable of annihilating the town. If Jacob is to win this battle, he must rise above his thirst for personal vengeance and become the leader his people so desperately need.

Monday, April 30, 2012

A Curious Reluctance to Finish

I finished my first draft of book #5 of The Righteous series, Destroying Angel, several weeks ago, and have been puttering around with rewrites ever since. I feel like a runner at the end of the marathon who has decided to slow down and walk the last half mile, not because the tank has run dry, but because he has been training and running for so long that he doesn't want it all to be over. It's the last book of the series (with a possible extension on the table), and I've lived in this world and with these characters for so long that I'm reluctant to say goodbye. Or at least that's my excuse. The other answers are less satisfactory. There's no hard deadline to face--I'm ahead of the terms of my contract with Thomas & Mercer--and there's a certain reluctance to finish this book and move on to my next, which is the WWII thriller. I'm both excited by and terrified of that project. More stretching of the writer muscles, and I don't to pull anything. And then there's the excuse of my recent vacation, followed by a week of house sitting for a friend, with the distractions of spring all around. Or maybe I'm just procrastinating. The answer to that is always more butt in chair, fingers on keyboard.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

Discovered a Great New Book

I don't usually mention other people's books on this blog, as I feel funny enough about pimping my own books, and I don't want this to be a forum for selling, selling, selling! However, I read a funny, engaging fantasy novel that was recently released for the Kindle that I wanted to share. It is The Wrong Sword, by Ted Mendelssohn, and it's a great combination of laugh-aloud humor, page-turning plot, and great historical detail. I highly recommend it. As I was reading it, my wife grew annoyed not just with my frequent laughter, but with my desire to read passages to her because she quickly decided she wanted to read it too. Pick it up, I think you'll like it.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Some thoughts from Amsterdam

We arrived in Amsterdam yesterday after a week in Florence. It was cold and breezy, but not raining. We're staying in Haarlem, which is a charming town of brick plazas and canals lined with brick houses. After dropping our luggage at the B&B, we returned via train (about twenty minutes) to Amsterdam, where we spent the rest of day.

In Amsterdam, we took a canal cruise lasting about an hour, walked through the central part of the city, taking not of the "coffee houses" (marijuana pubs), and the red light district, which was appropriately sleezy, but somewhat underwhelming after all the hype. A short hop on the light rail brought us to the museum of Dutch resistance in World War II. It seems the Dutch didn't, actually resist much until near the end of the war. At the start of the war, they surrendered to the Germans after only a few days of fighting. Almost all Dutch Jews were exterminated (unlike the Danish Jews), and unlike the French, who rose up when the Allies invaded, northern Holland remained under Nazi control until the very end of the war, even as Germany itself was being invaded. And then, with no sense of irony, the Netherlands tried to reassert its colonial control over its empire in Indonesia. They only allowed Indonesian independence under serious pressure from the United States.

Having said that, there were heroic exceptions of Dutch who took illicit photos, hid Jews, and organized strikes against the German occupiers. Their actions might have been more effective without so many of their compatriots simply doing what they were told. In fact, being so alone undoubtedly meant much greater danger for those who did resist.

We returned to Haarlem after the museum, where we finished checking in and then ate Indonesian food before getting an earlier bedtime than when we were with our friends in Florence.

A few random thoughts/observations about our experiences.

* They aren't kidding about Dutch bikes. They're everywhere, and forget bike lanes--there are entirely separate roads for bikes. We saw a parking garage for bikes in Amsterdam that held thousands upon thousands of bicycles.

* There was an old man on the train with a face that looked like something Rembrandt would have painted. He had one remaining incisor on his upper jaw that perfectly matched hole left by a single missing tooth on the lower jaw.

* At the Indonesian restaurant they brought us a large plate of rice, and eight hot dishes, six cold dishes, and four bowls with various condiments. The individual portions were tiny, but the sum total made for another gut-busting meal. Who said American restaurants were the only ones with oversized portions.

* I'm struck yet again about how the car culture and poorly-considered zoning leaves American cities so much less attractive and less walkable than many places in Europe.

* We had breakfast yesterday in Amsterdam that had several delicious kinds of bread, together with raspberry and fig jam and clotted cream. The meals in Holland are more expensive relative to lodging than they were in Italy.

* I've traveled a good deal and eaten at all sorts of restaurants, but I'd never had Indonesian before, to my memory. If you toss in the cuttlefish ravioli and the horse that I tried in Florence, this has been a rather adventurous food trip. I've also tried grappa, pan forte, and licorice gelato for the first time.

Saturday, April 7, 2012

Tuesday, April 3, 2012

In Search of a Good Villain

I've been giving some thought this past week to what makes a good villain. I've dealt with all types in past books, from the insane, to the power hungry, to people who are twisted by their circumstances into something monstrous. On occasion I've crafted a villain to meet the circumstances of the plot. This is what I did with The Devil's Peak, fitting the perfect villain to torment my main character. In The Righteous, religion motivates both my protagonists and my villains in equal measures. For The Red Rooster, the villain is a Gestapo agent, working to forward the evil of the Third Reich.

As I'm plotting out my newest book--another WWII thriller--it would be easy to come up with the same sort of character. Nazi is shorthand for evil; if my sympathetic characters are opposed to Nazis, there's no further need to justify their actions. And yet this strikes me as a little too easy for this particular book.

I absolutely do not want to justify the horrific behavior of the Nazi regime, but if I simply adopt the usual tropes, it's unlikely that I'll produce anything interesting or memorable. And it occurs to me that a reluctant Nazi might be, if anything, more horrific than the usual sociopath pulled directly from central casting.

As this character starts to come together in my head, my attention turns toward his opponents, and the need to give them an equally compelling narrative.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Rolling Back the Clock

With The Blessed and the Damned in copy edits and the first draft of Destroying Angel in the rewrite phase, I've begun some tentative brainstorming on the next book. The exciting news is that Thomas & Mercer is happy enough with sales on the first three books and with the writing in book #4 that they're talking about offering a contract extension. While I'm excited about the chance to spend another two or three books exploring the stories of Blister Creek, I'm far enough ahead of my release schedule that I've got time to cleanse my palate with something completely different.

I've got a few ideas, but the one that is drawing me is another WWII thriller. I've never been as immersed in a project as when I was writing The Red Rooster, and would love to return to the world of Occupied France. Of course, writing in such a well-known historical setting requires tons of research, and I found the writing here much slower than with other books. I can't simply turn off the internet, for one, because every few pages I find myself needing to consult maps of Paris or look up the recipe for some dish. If you're not careful, you can fall down that rabbit hole and never emerge. And at the end of the day, you still need to produce your pages.

I don't have a plot yet, but I have the beginnings of a plot, and a few characters are stirring in the imagination. My plan is to brainstorm for a half hour or so per day and within a couple of weeks I should know if there's anything there. Assuming there is--and I'm feeling optimistic--I'll probably try to get Destroying Angel to my agent and my beta readers by the end of April and start the first draft of the new book on May 1.

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Kindle Daily Deal/Gold Box Promo

A couple of weeks ago I got exciting news that the first three books of The Righteous would be featured in on Amazon's Kindle Daily Deal. A few days before, they told me it would also be included in the Gold Box promo as well.

Sunday, March 18, the day of the promo, the three books shot into the top 10, eventually settling at #2, #3, and #4 in the overall Kindle store. The only book that remained ahead of them was The Hunger Games, which has not only held #1 in a vice-like grip for months, but was enjoying all the promo in the weekend before the movie release.

Three days later the books are still in the top 10, with The Righteous at #7, Mighty and Strong at #9, and The Wicked at #10. The only books ahead of them are Hunger Games books and the books from the 50 Shades of Grey erotica trilogy, which are getting a lot of press at the moment.

Obviously, I'm delighted to be getting my books in front of many new readers. The only fly in the ointment is that whenever you put yourself in front of thousands of new people who otherwise aren't your natural audience, you're bound to find a higher ratio of unhappy readers. I've avoided looking at new reviews for now and keep my head down working on the next book.

I've found this blog post very helpful. As they say, you can't please everyone.

In the meanwhile, if you've read and enjoyed the books and have been debating whether or not to write a review, this might be a good time to write one.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

The Blessed and the Damned Available for Pre-order

In preparation for the big marketing push that Thomas & Mercer is doing this weekend, you can now pre-order book #4 of The Righteous series. I love the cover for this. The mixture of bright colors and shadow give it a sinister air.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

Writing Interview Excerpt

I have a guest interview running in a few weeks on another site where I talk about my path to success and give some advice to aspiring writers. Here is a snippet from the advice section.

1. Produce. Don’t dink around for five years with the same novel. Set daily word count goals and meet them. At 1,000 words a day, you’ll have the rough draft of a novel in 3-4 months. Give yourself two months to polish it to the best of your ability, then move on to the next project.

2. Study. You can’t be a writer if you’re not also a reader. Find good stuff and figure out how they do it. That’s the most obvious way to study. The second is to read as many books on writing as you can get your hands on. I find that doing this while I’m in the middle of first draft work helps me see how to apply this advice to my own work.

3. Keep perspective. You’re a writer, dammit. It doesn’t matter if the world scoffs, if every third person and their dog walker is working on a novel. You are going to keep writing because that is who you are, and that is what you do. In the early days our reach exceeds our grasp. We know what is good and we want it, but we don’t yet have the tools to produce at that level. The good news is that over time your reach grows.

4. Persist. If you’re a writer, you have to keep going. There is no other choice. Remember that a year from now you’ll be a year older than you are now. You’ll either have another novel or two under your belt or you will have finally got your paladin to level 80 on World of Warcraft. Which is more important to you?

Saturday, March 10, 2012

The Blessed and the Damned is Almost in the Bag

I just sent back the edits of book #4 of The Righteous series to my edit for a second round of editing. Based on my experience with the first three books, the second round should go quickly, with only a handful of changes. It will then go to Thomas & Mercer's proofreaders. I've had two different proofreaders. They are both very good, but one might be a little bit more stylistically flexible.

I've had three readers so far, including my editor, my beta reader, and my agent. All three told me independently that it's the best book of the series. I sensed this while writing the first draft, and again during the rewrites, when I would sometimes catch myself going back to read favorite passages and get sucked back into the story.

Meanwhile, I crossed the 70,000 word threshold of the first draft of book #5, Destroying Angel. I've slowed down a bit in March, having to turn my attention to edits of The Blessed and the Damned, but am at that point where I want to sit and crank out the last seventy or eighty pages.

I thought I'd be burned out on this series, especially since I only started The Wicked twelve months ago, which, given my estimated completion date of #5, means I'll have written three books in the series in fourteen months. But I'm not. The main story arc is coming to an end with book #5, but I've roughly sketched out a second arc of three books.

I'm only under contract for five, but the first releases are doing well, so I'm hopeful they'll be interested.

But with two books in production, I'll take a break to work on something else. I have a third book in the Devil's Deep series I want to write, another WWII thriller that is eating away at me, and another fantasy novel for my Dark Citadel series.

I think I'm more excited about writing than I've ever been.

Monday, February 20, 2012

One Man to Beat!

Moments of glory come so rarely in this business, where the typical day is a quiet struggle against a blank screen, that I hope you'll indulge me a little horn tooting. The first three books of my Thomas & Mercer releases of The Righteous go out tomorrow and I saw this little screen at Amazon that gives me hope that it will be a successful launch.

But who is that guy keeping me from hogging the spotlight? :)

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Bring Out Yer Dead!

Cat Carlisle asked an excellent question in the comments of the previous post:

Also, could I ask if you've ever tried rewriting any of those unfinished stories? For the past couple of years I've been rewriting the same three stories. Thought I did complete one of them, it wasn't to my satisfaction so I've found myself trying to write it again and again. Have you ever had any luck finishing or restarting an old story, or have you found that it's better to just let it die and move on to something new?

The answer is no. I have three novel chunks from the 90s, the only surviving copies of which are on a 5 1/4 inch floppy somewhere. I have 100,000 words of the third book of The Dark Citadel, but I wrote the first two parts with numerous rewrites as I tried to figure out what to do and rereading the third part I've decided it's not very good and too dark for the tone of the series. I think I'll start over with book #3, completely reimagining it from the ground up.

I also have a rough draft of an early thriller called Night of the Wolf, but it's not as good as the stuff I have out there. There's a completed dark fantasy novel called Still Waters that was the first decent thing I ever wrote, but I still don't think it's as good as my published novels, so I'll let that die as well. There are two early science fiction novels that were complete enough to go out for queries (to a deafening silence) and they are in the 5 1/4 inch floppy category mentioned above.

The one exception is the book I mentioned in the previous post's comments about the book that I almost finished, but didn't. I was suffering depression at the time, as well as a complete collapse in faith in my writing, and so I let it die. Going back to read the book, I think it's pretty good. The book is a middle grade fantasy novel called Moonland, and I'd dust it off and do something with it except that it's most similar to The Kingdom of the Bears, which has only sold a few hundred copies, even though I think it's a well-written, engaging fantasy novel. I'm not sure the work is justified.

So why don't I revisit these earlier novels. Most of them are pretty bad, but some are built around solid ideas. It was my execution that was faulty. And not just faulty, I wrote the books with a smaller tool set that I currently possess. I feel a little like a builder who has acquired a lot with a small, aging house on it. I could remodel, but at some point the results would be better, and even easier if I just knocked the darn thing down and started with an empty lot.

Also, when enough time has passed, I read my books as if they were written by a stranger. And a stranger's book, no matter how good, is not your own. You want to write something fresh and new. The fun part of writing for me is the discovery of the story. Those stories have already been discovered.

Between less fun and more work, I'll let the dead rest in peace.

Monday, February 13, 2012

How to Eat an Elephant

In my early years as a writer I left a trail of half-finished manuscripts, bleeding, wounded outlines, and novels that stormed out of the gate only to collapse thirty or forty thousand words into the game. Of my first eleven novels attempted, I only finished two of them. I am now operating on a string of nine straight novels started and completed. I wrote and finished most of these on spec, with the only contract the one wherein I had agreed to write to the best of my ability.

The difference between then and now? Then I sat down to write a novel. Today I sit down to write my daily quota of words. As the question goes, how do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time.

This is my technique. I start with a date. Mostly recently it was February 1. About four or five weeks before that date I set a commitment to start the first draft of a new novel. I then spend 10-30 minutes a day up to that point working on brainstorms. At the minimum, I need to know my opening, my ending, and a major set piece in the middle. I need to know my villain and my hero, and I like to flesh out my major and minor characters. This will all change in the writing, but if I have a rough structure, I can grope my way along in the dark from day to day.

When zero hour arrives, I write every day until the first draft is finished. I write if I'm sick, if it's my birthday, if I'm on vacation or if it's Christmas. I know from sad experience that if I take a day off, that day can easily become two and then a week and then there's a good chance the book will die. It doesn't matter how close I am to the end. In 2004 I wrote 75,000 words of an 80,000 word book and then stopped for some inexplicable reason. I've never returned to it. In 1999 I write 100,000 words of an epic fantasy novel. Again, dead in the water.

My goal is typically a minimum of 1,000 words and most days I only hit 1,000 - 1,200 words. It's a struggle each and every day, especially for the first few hundred pages, and I hit my minimum with a feeling of relief. In short, I'm not some superhuman writer who writes fifteen, twenty pages in a day. In writing more than 2,000,000 words of fiction, I've exceeded 4,000 words in a day no more than five or six times.

Lately, since I'm doing this as my regular job, I try to write at least 1,500 words per day for most projects. My current book is part of a writing challenge and I've been writing 2,000 words per day since the first of February, but again, only barely hitting that most days. Even so, it's the 13th and I'm at 28,000 words, which is a third of the novel. It adds up in a hurry.

I log my work every day. I also use mental tricks. I set timers, I use Freedom, which is a program that blocks me from the web for a certain period of time. I try to write at the same time every day (morning) to train myself.

When I finish, I let the book sit a couple of weeks and then get back to work. I generally add a few scenes (and so shoot for 5,000 - 8,000 less in the first draft than I expect to have when the book is done) and I'll delete a bit as well. As the years go by my first drafts are much better at having the same rough shape as the final version, even if individual scenes may be hacked and maimed in the process. It generally takes an equal period of time to brainstorm and edit as it does to write the first draft, so I usually finish a book about six months after I start. I'm trying to nudge that closer to five months these days.

Here is a typical example of how I log my progress. Note how disciplined I am, but also how I rarely shoot ahead with big word counts. Note also the day I knew I was going to be hiking the mountains with my son and so I cheated and doubled up the previous day, pretending that the PM was the following day so that I could stay on schedule. Note also that I sometimes went back to early chapters and wrote in missing scenes, so I wasn't 100% in order with my log.


Chapter One
05/04 – 0,400
05/05 – 1,200
05/06 – 2,000
Chapter Two
05/06 – 1,300
05/07 – 2,700
Chapter Three
05/08 – 1,800
05/09 – 3,300 (8,000)
Chapter Four
05/10 – 1,400
05/11 – 3,100
Chapter Five
05/11 – 0,300
05/12 – 2,500
05/13 – 3,100
Chapter Six
05/13 – 0,800
05/14 – 1,500 (15,700)
Chapter Seven
05/14 – 0,400
05/15 – 1,500
05/16 – 2,900
05/17 – 3,900
Chapter Eight
05/18 – 1,400
05/19 – 2,400
Chapter Nine
05/20 – 0,800
05/21 – 1,800
05/22 – 3,300 (25,300)
Chapter Ten
05/23 – 1,400
05/24 – 2,600
05/25 – 3,500
06/14 – 4,900
Chapter Eleven
05/26 – 2,100
05/27 – 3,300
Chapter Twelve
05/28 – 1,100
05/29 – 2,800
05/30 – 3,300 (36,800)
Chapter Thirteen
05/30 – 1,200
05/31 – 2,600
06/01 – 3,100
Chapter Fourteen
06/01 – 1,100
06/02 – 2,200
Chapter Fifteen
06/03 – 1,500
06/04 – 2,700
06/05 – 3,400
Chapter Sixteen
06/06 – 1,200
06/07 – 2,500
06/08 – 2,700 (48,200)
Chapter Seventeen
06/08 – 0,900
06/09 – 2,600
Chapter Eighteen
06/10 – 1,700
06/13 – 3,500
Chapter Nineteen
06/11 – 2,300
06/12 – 4,000
06/15 – 4,600 (58,900)
Chapter Twenty
06/12 – 0,200
06/15 – 1,500
06/16 – 2,700
06/17 – 4,000 (really pm 6/16 because of LT Hike)
06/18 – 4,500 (63,400)
Chapter Twenty-One
06/18 – 0,700
06/19 – 1,800
06/20 – 3,200
Chapter Twenty-Two
06/20 – 0,100
06/21 – 1,500
06/22 – 2,300
Chapter Twenty-Three
06/22 – 1,800
06/23 – 2,900
Chapter Twenty-Four
06/23 – 2,700
06/24 – 4,100 (75,900)
Chapter Twenty-Five
06/24 – 2,900 (78,700)

I wary of giving one size fits all advice about how to write, but this is a technique that works for me and might be helpful to others who need to accomplish a large task without any hard deadlines.

Sunday, February 12, 2012

The Blessed and the Damned

I turned in The Blessed and the Damned to my editor on Friday. There wasn't a day in the past five months that I wasn't working on the book, from brainstorming to first draft to rewrites. I'd hoped to finish in four months as I would like to write three different novels this year, but I'm not sure I can manage.

Having said that, the February writing challenge is going well. I started from nothing (well, to be fair, from notes) on January 31 and now I have 25,000 words of first draft material. If I can keep up this pace I can finish the first draft by the middle of March. I will then be on track to deliver the book by the end of May.

Saturday, February 4, 2012

Day Four of the Writing Challenge

They say nothing focuses the attention like a noose around one's neck. The writing challenge is serving that purpose so far. I warmed up on the 31st with a few hundred words, since the opening pages of a new book are so tough. In spite of that, today was the first day that I really felt the words flowing and the first where I didn't reach my goal of 2,000 and immediately stop writing. I only wrote another two hundred words after hitting my minimum, but that was a good sign. 8,900 words so far of book #4, Destroying Angel.

And in other news, I received my contributor copies yesterday from Thomas & Mercer for the first three books of the series. Only a couple more weeks until the release. Having the print copies in hand makes this seem very real.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The Bungee Jump Method

As I write this I'm standing on top of a bridge with a bungee cord tied around my ankles and a three hundred foot drop. The bridge is January and in a couple of days I'll take the jump (or get pushed) into February, when I've signed on for a 60,000 word writing challenge. My goal is to get the first 2/3 written of the first draft of the fifth book in The Righteous series.

I always have a worm of dread squirming in my gut when I start a new project, but the self-enforced deadline, combined with a few challenging things I'm going to try, is making me more nervous than usual. I do have experience with jumping off the bridge before, which helps a little. I know I can do it. It's just that first plunge that's the hardest.

Here is what my fellow writer David Gaughran has written about the challenge.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

The Frozen Wastelands of the North

Scary moment tonight when the car slid backwards down the driveway and almost went over the hill and into the orchard. It was a white knuckle ride and I had to stop and regroup when I finally came to a rest. My car is parked at the bottom of the hill now and I'm not sure how I'm going to get it up without calling the plow guy to sand it.

These are things you don't think about when you're shopping for a house in June.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

New Web Site

I've got a new author web site up, if you'd like to take a look. It's still fairly spare, but I'd eventually like to include copies of interviews, links to reviews, news about book releases, etc. on the site.

Take a look, when you get a chance.

Michael's Author Web Site.